23 March 2018

How Does The O's Rotation Compare To Other AL East Teams?

The Orioles got better with the addition of Alex Cobb. That's a good thing! But while it makes sense to now feel more confident in this version of the starting rotation, it can't be considered a great group of starters, and maybe not even a good one.

Maybe that's somewhat of a gloomy outlook. Still, back in February, I looked at how Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy stacked up against other American League teams' top two starters (by Steamer projections at FanGraphs). Gausman and Bundy weren't the worst, but they ranked near the bottom. Since then, the O's have signed Andrew Cashner and Cobb. Cashner projects below both Gausman and Bundy, but Cobb's Steamer projection of 1.7 fWAR is slightly better than Bundy's. Even with Gausman and now Cobb now fitting in as the O's top two starters by Steamer, the O's would only leapfrog one team in the rankings.

Let's try something different and examine five starters for AL East teams. Let's also look at PECOTA, ZiPS, and Steamer projections for 2018. I used the following lists of starters for each team:

Blue Jays: JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, Jaime Garcia
Orioles: Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman
Rays: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria, Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Andriese
Red Sox: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz
Yankees: Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery

You can gripe about a name or two (due to injuries) or the order, but it's close. Note that the Rays are going to use a four-man rotation and a bullpen day, so I used the best-projected swingman option in their bullpen.

After combining the totals (WARP for PECOTA; fWAR for ZiPS and Steamer), here's what you get:

Blue Jays6.613.210.4
Red Sox12.817.314.2
Sources: FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus

The Orioles rank last across the board, by a large margin. Now, you can argue that the O's hope to get more out of their group of starters, and that some of them have exceeded their projections in the past. Tillman has out-pitched his peripherals before, as have Cobb and Cashner. And maybe you also give Cobb and Tillman bonus points for past success in the AL East. These are projections, after all -- nothing is set in stone -- but they're not useless.

It's unlikely that all five O's starters are going to pitch as the best versions of themselves, and talent wise, they're probably no better than fourth or fifth in the division. Maybe, again, that simply shows how deep the East is and how tough it is to come out on (or near) the top.

That doesn't mean the O's were foolish to add Cobb or that it was a bad signing. I'm thrilled that they brought him on-board, and it's scary to think about the team heading into the season without him in the fold. But even with Cobb, a lot has to go right for the O's to have a shot at a playoff spot in 2018. They've overachieved before, and they'll have to do it again. This time, though, with some of their best players scheduled to become free agents, the stakes are higher than ever.


Pip said...

Do these projections systems take into account Tilmans questionable health? And it seems as if they are assuming that he will be healthy for the whole season, but if not, how do they handle the 20% hole?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

ZiPS and Steamer have Tillman between 123-130 innings. I don't know about PECOTA. Regardless, none of them is high on him this season.

Jan Frel said...

This O’s squad will win 90. There’s huge depth, they just need to trade for McHugh

Pip said...

Here's another hopeful vote for McHugh.

Anonymous said...

This group is seriously underrated. You heard it here first. Tillman may not have another 16-4 start but he is pitching around his deficiencies so far - I projected him as a comeback candidate. Bundy and Gausman will get incrementally better. Cobb and Cashner will be solid (Cashner will get enough GBs to offset his low K rate). I think projections likely have more inaccuracies when players have less hostory to project on (i.e. tend to underrate guys like Bundy/Gausman). Also, guys like Cobb - just one good year after losing nearly two - are likely to outperform. I think it's more important for the bullpen to outperform too. Good middle relief can save some ER for the starters (or put gasoline on the fire). Further, based upon how things are going this spring, it seems like the O's are going to have another "comeback" kind of year. If the SPs can hold teams to reasonable scores the O's may have a lot of 6th-7th inning comebacks as has been their habit - especially early in the season before many teams figure out who will and won't be effective in middle relief. Adding the potential for Rasmus, Santander, Sisco, Hays to outperform, this O's team is designed to outperform projections. This team has a really good vibe going. Truth is that a good team performance could help lead to extensions for Jones/Brach/Britton/Schoop. And it's hard to believe that, considering what they did for Davis, that Angelos would not make a play for Machado even if he's unsuccessful. I have a real soft spot for Angelos' kids that convinced him to go for it with Cobb.

Jon Shepherd said...

You were second. Jan beat you by two comments.

Pip said...

I think we should sign Scott Feldman, but there's a strong possibility the Giants have already giving him a call.

dolgen said...

One thing that makes me optimistic for this season is that last year the Orioles were really in contention for a wild card spot right up until the last 2 or 3 weeks of the season, when they went into a tailspin.
This year, with Cobb and Cashner, instead of Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley, should have them well ahead of last year, all season long.
Let's not forget, that the Orioles can really score runs.

JerryR said...

If we take last season starting pitching era of 5.40 and compare it to the what we could estimate for this year's it get interesting. With the additions this year the era for the starting 5 and using their eras from last year it averages to about 4.76. Not great but 103 less runs given up during the year than last year. Last year we scored 90 some runs less than runs given up so we'd be in the plus in 2018. I'd expect Gausman and Bundy to improve slightly since their young and learning. Tillman should either improve or be replaced by someone who improves on the 7.84 era Tillman had in 2017. Cobb and Cashner should be similar to 2017. So we should be well into the postive in runs scored vs runs given up. FYI: If the starters pitch in 2018 to their career stats we're about 227 runs better than last year.
Offensively we haven't changed a whole lot and the bullpen hasn't as well so we should expect similar years from both. Therefore: In 2018 the O's should be in contention for a playoff spot.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Cobb and Cashner should be similar to 2017... why?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The O's were middle of the pack in the AL in runs last year.

JerryR said...

If you look at Cobb and Cashner's careers when healthy they have been pretty consistent. With every pitcher there is chance of having a bad year just as there is a chance they will have a plus year but on average we should expect them to have average year because they have a track record.
I don't know what "The O's were middle of the pack in the AL in runs last year." has to do with anything I've said. My analysis involved taking last years run differential and with the changes in the starting staff to figure what the run differential for this year might be. Based on that analysis the team should be between +5 to +130 runs.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, they have a track record and it should improve the rotation. It is why models, like what FanGraphs uses, sees a 5 WAR increase there. However, to simply assume performance in line with career marks is a bit optimistic. In an article I wrote last week I provided some probabilistic modeling odds for pitchers like Tillman and Cashner to be 2 WAR and above pitchers. So, I think the scenario where all these guys come through successful sounds much easier to happen than it actually is.

On paper, this team looks better than the one that actually played 2017. Of course, on paper, the team that was about to play 2017 looked better than the team that wound up playing.

Anonymous said...

Yes last year they may have been middle of the pack in runs scored but that was last year. Before that they had multiple years of near the top. I think this year they will once again be near the top and if the pitching staff works out with Bundy and Gausman being good, Cashner and Tillman having bounce back seasons and Cobb living up to being a top pitcher then the Orioles will definitely be a serious threat to the WC. Every year they are under estimated and they always play great. I think this year can be another one of those years.

JerryR said...

I think FanGraphs is fine for some things but it is limited. You'd think if we can measure almost everything about each player, from how hard he throws to how fast the ball leaves his bat to most everything in between we'd be able to predict which teams will win and which won't but we can't. Baseball analytics can't measure what's inside a team or a player. In my opinion what a player or team has done in the past is a better way to predict what they'll do in the future.

Pip said...

Jon, this is not a related question, but how do you feel about Alvarez making the team? Adding him is going to require subtracting someone from the 40 man, and he's just so limited I can't understand why it's a good idea.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Jerry, you are free to feel however you want. The Orioles may perform as the best versions of themselves, but that is not likely.

Anyway, the last three seasons, the O's are 8th in the AL in runs scored. Going back the last five seasons, they're 6th.

In all those years, the highest the O's finished in runs scored in the AL was 4th, in 2013.

Again, I'm not saying that they can't be one of the top few teams in the league. I think it's much more likely they're around the middle of the pack, though.

To think that projections aren't taking into account what players have done in the past is wrong, but that also doesn't mean they're 100% right. They're still part of the discussion.

JerryR said...

I totally agree. I'm just giving the range of run differential based on past performance. That range is basically a .500 club to a wildcard team. If they play a little better than their historical level they're in the running for a division title. If they play worse than they could stink. I'm thinking positive though so I'm expecting they'll be more of a playoff caliber team. Go O'S!!!!!!